December 30, 2009
What's the Essential Song of the 2000s?
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With the decade coming to a close, I've been trying to think of what is the definitive song of the 2000s. For some decades, it's easy. For the 1990s it's obviously "Smells Like Teen Spirit". For the 1980s maybe it's "Pride", "Like A Virgin" or "Born in the U.S.A". For the 1970s it's probably something like "Baba O'Riley" or "Feel Like Makin' Love" by Bad Company. For the 1960s it's probably something by The Beatles. In fact, back in 2005, we had an ongoing series of polls to figure out what the greatest song of all time was (and the winner? uh, I have no idea). Back then, our poll said that the best song of the 2000s was OutKast's "Hey Ya!" Yeah, not so much.
Anyway, this isn't really about the best song, that's too subjective. It's about the song that best represents the decade in music. By that I mean a song that both represents a groundbreaking or popular music style of the decade yet also has something to say about the events of the decade or to the generation that came of age during those years.
For a long time, I thought the most representative, or at least evocative, song of the decade was Wilco's "Jesus, etc." for the way it conjured up the imagery of 9/11 (despite being recorded before it) as well as that lost feeling we experienced in the days and months after. Unfortunately, the song just isn't well known enough to stand for the decade and fortunately, as the years have passed those feelings about 9/11 have faded.
Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" was the world's top selling song this decade and it sounds like the decade with its Latin influence and fusion of pop and hip hop. Or maybe it's something like Coldplay's "Yellow" or Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" - both examples of popular indie music. Or what about something by Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood or Daughtry to show the influence of American Idol. Or even M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" with its Asian influences and genre-busting sound?
The point is, is that it's not obvious. At least not yet.
December 28, 2009
Why are we hitting ourselves?
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My brother, like most of the world's older brothers, liked to grab my wrist and force me to punch myself. He'd taunt me by asking me why I hitting myself. If my Mom tried to yell at him, he'd just claim that he wasn't doing anything. I was doing it to myself.
It dawned on me today that when it comes to the War on Terror, America is acting like a bullied younger sibling. We're hitting ourselves. Instead of, for example, imposing tighter security measures on those most likely to commit terrorism, we're hassling everyone. We're gonna make sure that Grandma doesn't snuggle up in her contraband blanket.
As far as I can see, our response to 9/11 has been to go to war and hassle air travelers. We're willing to sacrifice American lives and American dollars and help turn air travel from a convenience to a horror show, but god forbid we hurt anyone's feelings.
The Christmas Day attempted bombing and the Fort Hood shooting certainly also show that we've done nothing to actually stop terrorists. It's ridiculous to me that we're unable to act on warnings from someone's father (and really, just imagine what your kid would have to say for you to call the US State Department about him) and all of the warning signs about Hasan, but you if try to bring a full size tube of toothpaste on a plane, you better check yourself.
All of the security measures in the world aren't going to save us. And it's not because these are terrorist "masterminds" who will use all of their wits to exploit holes in the system. We're not the Death Star and they're not geniuses. The next attack that succeeds will probably do so because we're stupid and/or lazy. Unlike me, America doesn't have or need an older brother forcing our hand. We actually are more than willing to punch ourselves.
December 23, 2009
10 Best Things about the Holidays
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The Holidays are here! Yay! In the spirit of the season, here are my top ten best things about this time of the year. What are yours?
10. The Airing of Grievances around the Festivus pole.
9. The end of holiday TV ads and emails. Enough!
8. The opportunity to brush up on my Sheepshead skills.
7. Champagne! As a people, we should strive to drink champagne more often. And, for an added treat, add a few drops of orange bitters to your glass. Delicious.
6. There are football games on nearly every day of the week! This year, for example, the Badgers play on a Tuesday night. Isn't that great? What else are you going to do on a Tuesday night (well, other than play a little Blingo)?
5. Year-end top ten lists. If you haven't noticed, I love top ten lists!
4. Seeing (and being a part of) lots of "feel good" stories and the sense of charity and goodwill that spreads through even the biggest Grinch.
3. It's socially acceptable to give people things "just because". Just because is the best reason of all :)
2. Vacation days! Americans get so few holidays. It's sickening that from New Year's Day to Memorial Day we get nothing. If I ever do run for Congress my idea to establish a two-day "March Madness" holiday is a sure winner.
1. Spending time with family & friends (see you all soon!).
Oddly enough, note that "getting gifts" isn't on the list. That's a good thing to remember when you're in "buy buy buy" mode.
December 22, 2009
Gift cards - yay or nay?
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Now that Christmas is almost here, the procrastinators of the world are scrambling for last minute gifts. And nothing says "last minute" like a gift card. How do you feel about gift cards?
December 20, 2009
Survivor and social dynamics
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Another season of Survivor comes to an end tonight. Yes, embarrassingly, I still occasionally watch Survivor. But, looking at the ratings, I'm not the only one. While individual contestants, locales & challenges tend to blur together, I find that I'm still fascinated by the social dynamics of the game.
One thing that I find interesting (and encouraging) is that people don't just ally with other people "like them" - they'll ally with people of different races, sexual orientation, religion, class, etc. The only things that seems to determine alliances are proximity and opportunity. Think about it - one of the first and most successful alliances in the game was between a 70-something military guy and a middle-aged gay corporate counselor. If they can make it work, there's hope for the rest of us, right?
Well, maybe not. The other thing that I find interesting (but less encouraging) about the social dynamics of Survivor is the role of women in the game. I'm maddened by the passivity of the women. Maybe it's just the editing, but it seems like the women on the show are consistently content to let the men make decisions. The not-so-passive women are "pushy" and "bitches" and are obvious targets to get voted off. Women who are successful on the show either do so by being motherly or by being ingenues.
Contestants so easily slip into these elemental, hard-wired roles and perceptions, like that old men are wise, women are weak and strength is a matter of muscles. (Those of you that watch the show, have you ever noticed how respected these muscle-bound studs are, yet how many times they don't actually help their tribes win anything?) I wonder if this is just a consequence of being in an artificial reality show environment or if these are just essential facts of humanity and that no matter what, we're always going to seek and respect male leaders and obvious physical strength more than their feminine counterparts.
I don't know. In the political world, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin are both examples of how strong women are perceived and treated (basically, depending on your political affiliation, they're either crazy, bitches, or crazy bitches). But, on the other hand, how do explain the career of Margaret Thatcher? Is she the exception, the Boudica of the 20th century?
But maybe I'm thinking about it all wrong. Maybe it's not about traditional or non-traditional roles anymore. Maybe it's all about the individual. Maybe Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin would get voted off of Survivor because they're annoying while Margaret Thatcher would do well because she's awesome. I like this interpretation better. If you're not doing well at the game of Survivor or in the game of life, maybe it's not because of what you are, but rather who you are. Yeah, that must be it. And, if all else fails, just blame the editing.
December 18, 2009
More than words (no, not really)
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A coworker sent me this confession today:
So on KDWB this morning they had a segment on things you thought were said one way, but were actually said another…..so I feel compelled to tell you, up until your Facebook post a couple weeks ago, I thought it was “wind shield” not “wind chill”. I have spend my whole life being so confused by the term “wind shield” because it didn’t make sense to me that something the term implied that it was colder out than it actually is and was called “wind shield”….my entire existence has been changed…..
After I stopped laughing at her, I made some confessions too. As a child, I thought that there was a word "brocktoued" that basically meant that something was sponsored by something. For example, "this broadcast was brocktoued by CBS and Campbell's Soup."
For a time, I also thought there was something called the Specific Ocean. Even just last week, I had a conversation with some friends and there was a word that none of us really knew how to pronounce or use. It felt refreshing and almost brave to confess that to each other. Guess what, it's okay not to know something. There's a little Sergeant Schultz inside all of us (there's also a little Captain in me, but that's just me :)
December 13, 2009
College Bowl Pool
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It's time for our annual College Bowl Pick 'Em pool! Just go here and enter the following login information:
Group ID: 16861
Make your picks by December 19th. As we usually do, we'll make a donation in the winner's name to a charity of their choice. See, it's fun and for a great cause!
December 12, 2009
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My friend Jamie and I were just talking about America and how generally awesome it is. I wondered, though, how come America seems so bent on putting itself down. Jamie had the perfect reply: "America is like the tall girl that feels the need to slouch so that the boys will like her." She's right. That's it. The problem isn't that we're too tall, it's that the "boys" are too short.
Stand tall America!
December 08, 2009
Top Ten Songs of 2009
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Because I'm from Big Ten country, my top ten lists go to 11.
11. Two Weeks, by Grizzly Bear: This song is the perfect combination of dreamy atmospherics and old fashioned piano-driven pop. It makes for its own perfectly modern genre.
10. Chinese, by Lily Allen: This is just a sweet song about everyday happiness and I wouldn't put it on my top ten list but for the "Ah Ah Ah AHHH" that leads into the chorus. To me it sounds like she's singing from a cloud. I love it.
9. Raindrops, by Basement Jaxx: This is just pure, joyous dance music. It's a "Groove Is In The Heart" for this century.
8. Crystalised, by The xx: I get caught up in the interplay between the male & female singers. I also love when, for example, a singer says "go slow" and the music follows to a halt. That's just flat out cool.
7. Tall Boy, by Har Mar Superstar: Britney Spears' management rejected this song. It's her loss. It sounds like a Britney song but knowing it's not her makes the whole thing fun and refreshingly tongue in cheek. I especially like the can opening noises, which make me want my very own tall boy.
6. Whachadoin?, by N.A.S.A. feat. Spank Rock, M.I.A., Santigold, and Nick Zinner: Lots of people, myself included, hate these songs featuring five different performers - but I'll make an exception and love this one anyway because it's an ass-kicking kaleidoscope of sound. I also love the way M.I.A. and Santigold drag out the "Wha" in the title as well as the great drama of the song's opening notes.
5. Home, by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: A happy, country-tinged song with a fantastic spoken word interlude. There are not nearly enough spoken word interludes in music today.
4. I And Love And You, by The Avett Brothers: This is another piano-driven tune, but there's something slightly southern about it too - it's a hymn and a plea and at the end just a beautiful song with a beautiful sentiment.
3. It's Better To Spend Money Like There's No Tomorrow Than To Spend Tonight Like There's No Money, by Quiet Company: I saw this band play in Austin. I'm not saying that so I sound cooler than you, but rather to explain why you haven't heard of them. They're a slightly more raucous version of Ben Folds Five. They play fun, piano-driven pop and I have no idea why they haven't made it out of the Lone Star State yet - this is just one of the absolutely great songs on their latest record.
2. Zero, by Yeah Yeah Yeahs: The worst thing about Yeah Yeah Yeahs is that they had too many great songs in 2009. It was hard to choose this one over Heads Will Roll or Soft Shock, but it won out mostly because I love the growly repetition of "What's your name?" at the end.
1. This Tornado Loves You, by Neko Case: I think 2009 was filled with exceptional music, but this song still stands head and shoulders about the rest. It's got interesting lyrics, great hooks and the easily the best vocal performance of the year. This is one of those songs that I'll gladly listen to over and over and over again.
So that's my top ten (11). What are yours?
December 07, 2009
A tale of two polls
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Viking fans before last night's game:
Viking fans after last night's game:
I kind of heart Vikings fans sometimes. :)
December 06, 2009
The least wonderful time of the year
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So, I'm outraged by the BCS. Again. It's not that I'm so passionate about college football, it's that I'm outraged by the general unfairness of it all. Texas & Alabama might be the two best teams in college football, but they've done nothing that the other unbeaten teams haven't done too: gone unbeaten and won their conference. The only difference is that Alabama & Texas were supposed to be good and come from big conferences that are supposed to be good. As a horse racing fan, let me tell you that you're going to lose a lot of money betting on "supposed to".
Because I love stats, here are some interesting tidbits about the five unbeaten college football teams. Read 'em and tell me that it's such a sure thing that Alabama & Texas should meet in the National Championship Game.
- Texas did not play a single non-conference game against a team in another BCS conference. To put that in perspective, only three other tems in all of Division 1 were similarly shamefully wussy: Texas Tech, Mississippi and Wisconsin.
- The Big 12 as a whole only won four games against other BCS conferences, beating such powerhouses as Duke, Illinois and Wake Forest. Their overall record was 4-7.
- Of course, it's not just about BCS conferences. Maybe some of these undefeated teams beat conference champions in the smaller conferences, right? Nope. The only team with a victory over a conference champion is Boise State, who earned it against Oregon
- Alabama has defeated three teams in the AP top 25. TCU has two such wins, Cincinnati has three, Texas has two and Boise State has one.
- If the BCS bowl selections go as expected, both Alabama and Boise State will have 1-0 records against BCS bowl teams
- TCU beat #15 BYU on the road. Cincinnati's biggest non-conference win, over #16 Oregon State, was also on the road, as was Alabama's win over #12 Virginia Tech
- The SEC has a 9-4 record against other BCS conferences, with most of their wins against the ACC.
- As of the most recent AP poll, Alabama's best win is over #5 Florida. Cincinnati's best win is over #16 Oregon State. TCU's best win is over #15 BYU. Boise State's best win is over #7 Oregon. Texas' best win? That would be last night's one point beat down of #20 Nebraska.
Looking at the stats, it's hard to make an argument for Texas. Of course, maybe they are one of the two best teams in the country. At least they'll get to make a case for themselves on the field. It's too bad the rest of the unbeaten teams won't get that same opportunity, which is why the end of the college football season just flat out sucks. Again.
December 04, 2009
Top Christmas Movies
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Have you noticed the recent proliferation of bad made-for-TV Christmas movies? It’s crazy – this year there are apparently multiple movies about dogs saving Christmas. Dogs! I’m waiting for the film about how a squirrel saves Christmas as, to be honest, sometimes the only thing that gets me in the holiday spirit these days is seeing my chubby neighborhood squirrels scampering about.
Anyway, I, like most children of the 1970s, grew up on holiday TV specials where Christmas was saved by Grinches and red-nosed reindeers instead of pets. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a good real holiday movie. In fact, here are my personal top five. And please keep in mind that I’m probably the only person in the world who hasn’t seen A Christmas Story, so that’s why it’s not on the list.
Home Alone: I know Macaulay Culkin got annoying, but in this movie he’s still cute & mischievous and most of all smart. That’s why the movie works – because Kevin is really smart and his schemes really would work. Oh, and his relationship with the neighbor gets to me every time.
Elf: I know Will Ferrell isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I like him. I love Elf because it’s a high concept movie that doesn’t back down from that concept. It goes for the gold in all its schlocky glory. Oh, and it also helped launch Zooey Deschanel’s singing career!
It’s A Wonderful Life: It’s a classic for a reason, although that reason isn’t because it’s such a heartwarming story. I think the reason is because it’s real. George Bailey has his dreams squashed at every turn. People can relate to that and get into the character because of that. Few of us will turn out to be millionaires or heroes. We’re Georges.
Christmas Vacation: I’m sorry, but sometimes you can’t beat “man fall down” humor.
Love Actually: There are some movies I’ll watch almost any time I notice they’re on TV (for example, The Cutting Edge, Major League, Independence Day and recently, The House Bunny), but this is a movie I’ll actually search for sometimes – just randomly hoping it’s on so I have an excuse to watch it for the millionth time. It’s that good. I love how it explores every type of love and how it acknowledges the brilliance of Colin Frissell’s plan to get a girlfriend (which, lonely British men, would totally work).
Finally, I should add One Life To Live’s fake Christmas film Christina Comes Home For Christmas to the list. I love that the show has such a clear vision of its fictional universe that said universe even has its own iconic Christmas film. Awesome!